The New York Giants scored a major victory in their contract stalemate with Victor Cruz following the wide receiver's decision to sign a restricted free-agent tender last week. Not only will Cruz be in uniform for the 2013 season, but New York currently holds all the leverage in negotiations moving forward.
It should be emphasized that Cruz did not willfully surrender his bargaining power to the Giants.
A stipulation of the league's CBA enables teams to lower the amount of a tender if a player has yet to sign. Rather than allow New York to reduce his tender from 2.879 million to $630,000, Cruz took the best offer currently available to him. This is another example of the overwhelming power owners possess over players in the NFL.
As both sides continue to work on a long-term deal, it's important to discuss how the implications of this tender will affect negotiations moving forward. Here are some key components that allow the Giants to stand pat when dealing with Victor Cruz.
Cruz Forfeited His Only Asset
Now that the Giants know their Pro Bowl wide receiver will be in uniform for 2013, there is no reason for them to make any concessions. Negotiations are often a test of patience, and New York now has the luxury of time on their side.
The only alternative for Cruz would have been to buy more time by holding out.
Since NFL owners rarely tolerate players who refuse to show up for the preseason, Cruz probably made a wise choice—at the expense of losing his leverage.
He's Not the Only Star
New York is already up against it in terms of the salary cap. This is especially disconcerting when you consider that Hakeem Nicks and Jason Pierre-Paul will each need new contracts following the 2013 and 2014 seasons respectively.
Jerry Reese has presumably done the math regarding his three biggest stars. Having figured out what it might take to sign Nicks and Pierre-Paul, Reese offered Cruz around $7 million a year this spring.
The amount of wiggle room allocated for Cruz is minimal at best. Reese and the Giants have never had the reputation of being cheap or unfair in negotiations. If history is any indication, New York will not increase its offer.
Cruz Needs NY More Than NY Needs Cruz
In terms of marketability, there is no better place for Victor Cruz to continue his career. Without specifically calling out other NFL cities (you can figure them out pretty easily), there is little doubt that Cruz's name would lose its luster a bit if he departed New York.
Offers to act in family-oriented Campbell's commercials, or those funny Footlocker spots will inevitably dry up for Cruz. There will still be opportunities off the field, but at a reduced rate. The distinction of being an athlete in New York still holds water.
Additionally, the Giants are developing a pedigree of grooming slot receivers which have proven to be expendable.
Steve Smith posted 107 receptions for 1,220 yards in 2009. A year later, the Giants let him walk away.
Smith's downfall, albeit due to injuries, is an example of New York's ability to reload at the slot position. Although Smith was a talented player, he invariably benefited from playing with quarterback Eli Manning. The same could be said for Cruz.
Tight ends and receivers who operate in the middle of the field have consistently thrived with No. 10 under center. Players like Jake Ballard, Kevin Boss and Martellus Bennett each had marked levels of success during their time in New York. The amount of credit each of these players deserves is debatable, but Manning being the only constant is something which cannot be ignored.
The Giants will be just fine if they part ways with their star receiver following the 2013 season. Can we say the same for Cruz?
Slot Receivers Are Not Paid Top Dollar
If receivers were compensated based on production alone, Cruz would be one of the highest-paid wide outs in the league. Unfortunately for him, that is not the case.
There is no greater example of this fact than the two-year, $12 million deal given to a receiver who combined for 240 catches in the last two seasons. Although Wes Welker (32) is six years older than Victor Cruz, his underwhelming contract is a clear indication of how teams value slot receivers.
While Cruz will be given more years than Welker, he should not expect an offer exceeding the $7 million already doled out by New York.
This is an important notion, because even if Cruz delivers a sparkling 110 catch, 1,200 yard season in 2013, the Giants will still not be inclined to budge.
There are affordable alternatives in the NFL when looking for serviceable slot receivers. These are players with solid instincts and an ability to fulfill a role as the safety valve on offense.
On the contrary, receivers who live on the outside are tough to find.
Outside receivers are players with physical tools to go along with ability. Players who can go up and wrestle a ball from a defensive back while still maneuvering along a sideline. Players who can churn out monster performances in the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl. Players like Hakeem Nicks.
This is ultimately the reason why Cruz (86 catches, 1,092 yards, 10 touchdowns in 2012) will not receive the same love as Nicks (53 catches, 692 yards, three touchdowns) from the New York Giants.